Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie Usher, Regina Hall
Director: Tim Story
Running Time: 111 mins
Shaft is an American film and the sequel to Shaft (2000).
Following the death of his best friend, FBI agent John ‘JJ’ Shaft III finds himself turning to his estranged father, who brings him deep into the criminal underworld of Harlem in order to find answers to the case, as well as rekindling a father-son relationship that never really started.
While it continues a cult franchise that stands at five instalments now, the latest Shaft is hardly a triumphant return for the series, failing to provide any genuinely good action or crime intrigue, while also failing consistently with poor comedy right the way through. As a result, while it features a great cast, there’s little to really like about Shaft, a film that ends up far more boring than the charismatic atmosphere it’s aiming for.
First thing to know about this review, however, is that I haven’t seen any of the previous Shaft films. Now, this film does a fairly good job at providing an accessible entry into the franchise, and save for a few easter eggs and nostalgic vibes, this fifth film won’t be lost on you if you’ve not seen any of the previous installments.
So, take my criticism for the latest film proving a rather underwhelming entry in the Shaft franchise with a pinch of salt, but do remember that it’s a film that is principally aimed at a new audience, taking the franchise story onto the next generation with young Jessie Usher at the centre.
And that’s why I still felt very disappointed by Shaft. It may be part of a storied cult franchise, but the film neither manages to capitalise on what seems like a very charismatic history nor simply entertain when it comes to easy-going blockbuster fun for franchise newcomers.
Above all, the story is far from the exciting and gripping action-crime plot it aims to be. Largely because of a lack of depth and real unpredictability, the film is painfully boring throughout, with the mending of the father-son relationship between the Shafts playing out in horrifically basic fashion, and the unfolding of the crime case feeling really quite irrelevant to the main affair.
What’s more is that what should feel a little more emotionally genuine is forced in rather awkwardly. Shaft does try to inject some real depth and emotion into proceeding at times, but the frustrating reality is that it does so in a simplistic and jarring way, with important emotional scenes like a kiss, hug or thoughtful gesture coming across as a narrative afterthought, shoved into place when the writers realised how weak and basic the film is as a whole.
The one saving grace, for the film, however, comes in the form of the performances. Now, none of the leads are on top form here, partly because of the screenplay’s weaknesses and partly because of characters that don’t seem to really excite any of the actors, but the pure charisma and talent of the leads does done through.
Samuel L. Jackson is great as John Shaft II, the father, pulling off his classic energy and wit in a role where he feels very much at home (often clearly reminiscent of his turn as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction), but also impressing as he shows off a softer side that we don’t often get to see. Alongside, Regina Hall is as likable as ever in a role that doesn’t occupy much screentime, and Jessie Usher is great fun at the centre, making me look forward to what he can do with a role that has a bit more depth to it.
Overall, though, I really didn’t think much of Shaft. It may have a strong cast, but there’s little else to really praise, as it proves a frustratingly dull, predictable and often forced affair throughout, failing to amplify the charisma of a series that seems to be brimming with it to me, and that’s why I’m giving this a 5.8.